Review – You Can Count On Me

You Can Count On Me [2000]

Starring: Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Jon Tenney, Rory Culkin
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Screenwriter: Kenneth Lonergan

From its heartbreakingly real beginning to its satisfyingly resolved ending, You Can Count On Me is a film that draws you in. It’s a film that doesn’t ask too much, and at times is content with letting you observe it. But so much of the time, it asks you to be a part of it, of its characters and their lives. It asks you to care, and we do care, because these people are so real, and their feelings so immediate. This is a great film.

Sammy (Laura Linney) and Terry (Mark Ruffalo) play a brother and sister who have been estranged from each other for years. As the film opens, we see that their parents were killed in a car accident. It then fast forwards to the present, where the two of them are grown up. Sammy works at a local bank and has a son, Rudy (Rory Culkin). Rudy’s father is not a well-liked man, and Sammy doesn’t tell Rudy much about him. But children, especially those in such situations, get curious. Still, Sammy’s small town life is normal.

It gets thrown out of whack when two events occur: first, her brother Terry comes to visit, intending to stay only a couple days and mooch her for money. Then, she gets a new manager at the bank, Brian (Matthew Broderick). They don’t get along very well. He wants to shake things up. She’s not used to it, and has a hard time with change, especially when it’s forced upon her. Things develop between the two, in a slightly expected way. But the real importance comes from Terry, and his effect on the lives of both Sammy and her son.

Terry develops a friendship with Rudy. And it is a friendship, but though Terry is an adult, and Rudy a child, they both inhabit aspects of the other. In some ways, there’s a subtle role-reversal at times. Terry wants to push things where Sammy won’t, constantly bringing up Rudy’s father to him. Things end in a violent confrontation, and some quiet revelations are made.

But the relationship between Terry and Sammy is one of magic. They don’t spend a ton of time on screen together, but when they do, it’s real; it’s genuine, it’s natural. They feel as if they’ve known each other since childhood, and you can sense a deeper pain within the two of them that they never quite express, yet we fully understand. Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney are absolutely fantastic. Watch the scene between them where they’re on the patio smoking pot. Never has a brother/sister relationship been so authentic on screen.

Kenneth Lonergan has crafted a film that after watching it, I wanted to watch it again. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And yet, though I wanted to know what happened to these characters after the film ended, I thought what I might with a close friend or family member: “They’re gonna be alright.”

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